Mercure: 40 years, 40 days of surprises

logo-mercureNice idea this (although maybe a little lost amongst the fantastic social marketing campaign all over the internet today from British Airways – see #racetheplane) – to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, Mercure hotels have planned 40 days of festive, exclusive, unexpected and locally inspired celebratory events that will “enchant their guests, both young and old alike”.

All the countries where Mercure operates in are getting ready to celebrate, from Rio to Moscow, in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  In the UK, the leading midscale hotel brand is reviving classic retro dishes with a modern twist for guests to enjoy. The limited edition £19.73 set menu and ’40 Minute Happy Hour’ drinks which include 1970s-inspired cocktails will launch on 24th September and is available in select hotels across the Mercure UK network.

The trip down gastronomic memory lane includes Prawn Cocktail, parma ham with melon and mushroom vol-au-vents are followed tournedos rossini of filet mignon, brioche crouon, served with pan-fried foie gras, truffle and madeira reduction, or duck a l’orange, and finished off with tempting desserts including Black Forest Gateau served with cherries jubilee and popping candy and the classic Arctic Roll served with a jelly macaroon and lemon sherbert are just some of the quintessential dishes appearing on the limited edition menu. The 1973-inspired menu and happy 40-minute cocktail offer are available at participating hotels for up to 40 days from 16th September until 25th October.

Surprises will be different in each country.  For example, at the Mercure Abu Dhabi, a special anniversary menu will be on offer so guests can sample a local specialty, Camel Blanquette. In Brazil, all the Mercure hotels will be offering an exclusive 40% discount during the celebratory period.  A guidebook presenting the 40 best locations in Latin America will also be published and given to customers on the occasion, encouraging them to discover the region and its treasures. In Germany, hotels will serve a special menu comprising traditional German beer and a huge open-top sandwich for €4,40. In China, over 40 days, the Mercure Chengdu will offer all guests born in 1973 a free dinner.

Let me know if you sample any of the surprises!

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Inside Yelp – how should hoteliers manage their online reputation? [interview]

Yelp LogoA few weeks ago I learnt that someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last few years through EyeForTravel, has moved roles and joined a company that’s always intrigued me – Yelp.  Rosie Akenhead had a key role in organising many of the EyeForTravel events, including the fantastic Travel Distribution Summit, from which so many stories have been derived for my blog.  I was keen to talk to Rosie about her new role and get an insiders view of Yelp to see what I could learn from the experts about how hoteliers should be working with Yelp and managing their online reputation.

I’m sure you have already heard of, or even use, Yelp.  But by way of background, Yelp is one of the biggest consumer review and recommendation sites on the internet, with an average of 108 Million unique monthly visitors and a total of 42 million local reviews contributed as of the end of Q2 2013.  Founded in 2004 in San Francisco to help people find great local businesses, Yelp provides a platform on which to share what’s, good, great and not-so great about local businesses – from hotels, restaurants, shops and local services to spas, mechanics, pet groomers and health professionals. The following transcript is an interview with Rosie Akenhead, Manager of Local Business Outreach, UK,  who shares with us some key tips for hoteliers looking to navigate the online world of reviews

Q: Tell us more about Yelp

A: Yelp, in a nutshell, is a site and mobile application that connects people with great local businesses – anything from hotels, restaurants, bars and spas to dog groomers, mechanics, even dentists!

The Yelp community is made up of engaged locals who connect online and off, to share their opinions about local businesses, and have written more than 42 million rich, local reviews to date. With an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors in Q2 2013, Yelp is the leading local guide for word-of-mouth recommendations.

This video from the owners of Avo Hotel in Dalston, London, helps explain how businesses fit into the mix at Yelp:

Q: Tell us about your new role, and what your objectives are as you begin working for the company.

A: I’m the Manager of Local Business Outreach for Yelp here in the UK and Ireland.  In plain English, that means I help educate local businesses, including hotels, about how to use the free suite of tools Yelp provides business owners, and how to manage their reputation online.

Yelp ImageQ:Did you use Yelp before you started your role, if so, what were your primary uses?

A: I did indeed.  Before Yelp, I was working for a travel trade publication, so I was always using it as a resource for good local businesses to test out when I was in a place I didn’t know so well. What’s different now? I use it all the time to wow friends and family with my great choice of cool hangouts and suggestions of places to check out right in my backyard!  It hasn’t let me down yet.

Even before I took the job at Yelp, I mainly posted reviews where I had an ‘average’ to ‘great’ experience and wanted to share it with others. I think that feeling must resonate with other reviewers, since nearly 80% of our reviews are three stars or above on a five star scale (a fact which certainly surprises most hoteliers).

Q: How strong and how widely used is Yelp in the UK?  Strongest markets?

A: Yelp was born and bred in San Francisco, USA.  We now have people working for Yelp in over 100 cities in 22 countries across the world.  We have Community Managers in 7 cities in the UK and Ireland (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin) whose role it is to interact with Yelp users and business owners in that city, and provide opportunities to connect them to each other.

With the acquisition of our European competitor, Qype, last year, Yelp’s presence on this side of the pond is going from strength to strength as we move forward with integrating the two companies to create a single platform under the Yelp brand. We’re seeing consistent growth in all our European communities.

Q: Hotels are forever being told they have to manage online reputation – how does this fit with Yelp?

A: Having worked in travel and hospitality for four years prior to my time at Yelp, I know for certain that hoteliers already know that that they need to manage their online reputation. That’s obvious. Most have made efforts to better monitor their presence online in one way or another. Yelp is a key place for hoteliers to have a presence, and this can be done relatively quickly and free of charge.

The guidelines that we set out for businesses are to a) make sure you claim your listing, b) fill out your profile and c) make sure you take the time to respond to reviews either privately or publicly.

Managing your reputation online starts with ensuring consumers can find the right information about you, wherever they look. The conversations you then have with those consumers helps build their trust and awareness of your hotel. Consumers are already looking for local businesses on Yelp, and research has shown that the information they find drives them to a purchase decision, so hoteliers need to make sure they are a viable option when they are searching in their hotel’s area by claiming their page and making sure the information is up to date, correct and complete.

I’d say one of the best steps for hoteliers to make is to respond to reviews (which you can do privately or publicly on Yelp) and start conversations with customers past, present and future.

Q: What steps should a hotelier take to have visibility of their content on Yelp, and how should they go about managing their reputation?  Are there costs?

A: As mentioned previously, the first step really should be claiming their business page on Yelp. It only takes a few minutes to claim the page and set up an account and is completely free (honestly, it is, no catches).

I always say to people, you need to claim your Yelp listing! All it means is you are optimising a channel whereby a different set of educated, affluent customers can find you and do business with you directly. Having a listing with photos, full contact information including your website and telephone number, is an easy way to improve the number of people doing business with you.

Yelp Image 2Q: Is a hotel automatically included in search results of Yelp, or does the hotel need to add themselves to your service?

A: Most hotels are already listed on Yelp, and if a hotel is not listed, it is a very simple and quick process to add the business from the Yelp mobile app or the website. To check, simply type in your business name and location at www.yelp.co.uk. Once created, the place to claim and set-up your business account is here: www.biz.yelp.co.uk

Most people are quite surprised to find that their business is already listed, has reviews and that people are viewing that page every day.

Q: Can you give us some stats please?

A: On top of the 108 Million unique visitors to Yelp every month and the 42 Million reviews submitted to date, it is also worth noting that our mobile app is used on 10.4 million unique mobile devices every month, and every second a consumer generates directions to or calls a local business from the Yelp app.

Also, 59% of all searches on Yelp came from mobile web or our mobile app combined, highlighting further just how many people are searching for information whilst on the move. What does this mean for hoteliers? People are looking for instant information, instant resources and a place to stay and spend money.  if they can’t find it, they’ll turn somewhere else.

Q: Will Yelp look at becoming a hotel booking application in the future?

A: I think it’s important to initially state that Yelp is, first and foremost, always about the customer’’s experience.  We seek to show them authentic, honestly reviewed local businesses which they can trust, and that remains core to Yelp’s DNA.

We do have an API facility available for hoteliers.  This can be implemented in a number of ways from within your own website or mobile app to help highlight the great local businesses in the vicinity of your hotel, whether that be restaurants, shopping districts, services or the nearest theatre box office.

We’re always looking to improve the consumer experience and make Yelp as helpful as possible, so keep an eye out for future updates!

Many thanks to Rosie for sharing with us just how hoteliers can manage their online reputation with Yelp and some great stats.

If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them at the end of this post.

How does Airbnb work?

Worth a watch – especially if you have some spare space to rent out for the Olympics – if the hotel chains can triple their rates, imagine what your spare room might command!

FourSquare milestones from 2011

Courtesy of FourSquare. Appeared on the FourSquare blog 23rd December.

Staying the easyHotel way

I decided during a recent few days spent in London on business, to try a hotel I’ve always wanted to stay in.  A brand that gets talked about a lot – sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively.  Alas, on this occasion, it was not a yearning to stay in a trendy five-star boutique hotel (of which London seems to have an abundance of!), but to stay at an easyHotel.  Yep, you heard me right.  Two posts down, I’m reviewing the five stay Jumeirah Carlton Tower – now, easyHotel Victoria.

The easyHotel model is simple.  Bookings are taken online, and content is not distributed through other channels, meaning total control over revenues.  This allows easyHotel to fully control their rates and keep prices down.  If course, the easyHotel concept doesn’t suit everyone.  Yes, you have unbelievably cheaply priced hotels in central city locations, but the standard of accommodation reflects this.  And it’s this point I wanted to experience for myself.

I chose the easyHotel Victoria.  Great location and great price, £45 for a night in London is incredibly good value.  There are various room options to choose from (all are pretty basic), so I decided on budget – a “small room without window”.  Memories of the Belgravia Suite in my previous post now becoming a distant memory.  Included in the room are towels and bedding – that’s really about it.  Basic to say the least.  Entering the room, it hits you just how small it is – enough room for a bed to be wedged between two walls and a tiny all in one bathroom.  But, I am not complaining – it was perfect in its own way.

This leads me onto my main point.  easyHotel, in my opinion, get a little rough press.  Take a look at TripAdvisor, and it’s a mixed bag – and the com one complaints?  Size of room.  I simply don’t understand this.  easyHotel are incredibly clear on their website, even clearly defining the actual size of guest bedrooms.  The phrase “does exactly what it says on the tin” springs to mind.

What I do find surprising, is come close to the mark this hotel chain are pushing other budget operators.  Okay, so easyHotel don’t yet have the coverage of companies like Travelodge ( 8 UK properties against Travelodge’s 466) but imagine if they did.  But what do I mean?  Well, the price is far less in most instances that the average rate of a brand like Travelodge, but your still getting more for your money on a basic stay.  For example, Travelodge do not provide soap or shower gel.  easyHotel do.  Simple things like this add value.  Of course, you have swings and roundabouts.  easyHotel will make you pay extra for your room being cleaned should you wish it freshened up if staying for more than a night, as well as charging extra to watch TV in your room.  But in all honestly, you have to weigh it up.

When I booked my stay in London, I looked at a comparable Travelodge property.  easyHotel = £48.  Travelodge = £109.80.

If you need a room that you’re not going to spend much time in, just somewhere to sleep, I can thoroughly recommend easyHotel for cleanliness, location and price.

A BBQ Master-Class at the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel

I spent my Saturday afternoon at a BBQ Master-Class event at the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in Knightsbridge, London.  I had been invited to attend this bloggers event, the first of it’s kind, primarily to raise awareness of both the property and of the Terrace facility they have on offer to both residents and non-residents.   It was a fantastic event and can now truly call myself a BBQ expert!

Jumeirah have had a very busy year to date, and have held a whole host of events to celebrate their 50th birthday at the neighbouring property, the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, including the ‘Fabulous At Fifty” party, attended by numerous famous faces who have an affiliation with the hotel, including John Cleese and Sir Sterling Moss.

The Jumeirah Lowndes is a boutique style property located in the upmarket area of Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrods and the designer stores of Gucci and Jimmy Choo.  Actually, the reason I’ve always liked this London hotel is that despite being part of Jumeirah, a hotel chain we automatically associate with huge hotels in Dubai, this hotel is unique.  Yes, the Jumeirah style and branding is evident.  But this hotel retains a small world charm, no more so evident than in the Terrace.  In my opinion, this area of the hotel adds superb value – it’s quiet, secluded and a wonderful spot to escape the bustle of London and relax with good food (especially in the sunshine!).

The Terrace was the venue for the BBQ Master-Class, and luckily, the weather obliged with a sunny one.  Hosted by Head Chef Martin Gabler, several bloggers from the world of food and travel were invited to learn the true art of the BBQ, with lessons from our South African born Head Chef.  Martin’s very passionate about his food and the art of a great BBQ and duly obliged to reveal the secrets behind some of the hotels most popular dishes his team serves on the Terrace, including some amazing chicken kebab, king prawns, steaks, lamb kofta, and of course, amazing (and famous) home-made burgers.

It was great to learn about various marinades for meat dishes, including a delicious BBQ sauce and one of my favourites, Piri Piri.  Take a look at some of the photos of the dishes on display, and of the group of bloggers getting our hands dirty making burgers too!

Delicious king prawns with a coriander and chilli marinade.

The humongous chicken kebab – incredibly tender, and well worth the price as your literally getting more chicken than you can eat!

Getting our hands dirty. Delicious burgers, I even made them when I got home!

To finish: Chocolate Fondant – the best I’ve ever tasted.

So as you can probably tell, I can whole heartedly recommend dining at the Terrace, Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel.  Of course, holding this kind of event is a great way to raise awareness of your hotel and its facilities, as well as bringing in another revenue stream.   Thanks to all who arranged a great Master-Class.  I must go…. I need to prepare my marinade for my own master-class in the garden!

Seth Godin Keynote Video

Regular readers of this blog will know of my admiration of Seth Godin – a truly inspirational guy.  If you’ve not seen him at work, take a look at this video.

Here, Seth Godin tells marketers to think outside the box during a keynote speak at the Aprimo Marketing Summit 2011.

Video originally uploaded online by